HDD Study Hall: Tom Hanks

Posted Tue Jul 5, 2011 at 12:30 PM PDT by

by: Luke Hickman

If you followed suit with almost everyone else in America, you probably went to see 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' this holiday weekend. But if you were out hoping to see something refreshingly different, you likely saw Tom Hanks' latest feel-good film, 'Larry Crowne.' While everybody knows Hanks for his on-screen performances in such stellar classics as 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Forrest Gump,' many don't realize that he possesses several potent behind-the-camera talents. Aside from being an actor, Hanks is also a producer, a screenwriter, a songwriter, a director and the co-creator of the production company Playtone – which also produces television series like 'Big Love' and 'The Pacific' and soundtracks for films, such as 'Josie and the Pussycats' and 'That Thing You Do!'

Trained and educated as a theatre actor, Hanks quickly made his way onto television, only to make it even quicker onto the big screen once spotted by Ron Howard while guest starring on 'Happy Days.' From there, Hanks' career took off. Sure, he's had his fair share of failures, but the two-time Academy Award winner has had a 30-something year streak of being able to do whatever he wants because of his successes.

This week we take a closer look at five noteworthy credits that Tom Hanks surprisingly had a role in making.

'Band of Brothers' (2001)

Although not a film, Hanks deserves credit for his work put into making one of the best miniseries of all time. Hanks not only served as executive producer for two episodes, but also wrote two episodes and directed another. Alongside Steven Spielberg, Hanks' production company Playtone worked hand-in-hand with DreamWorks to produce the 10-episode HBO series.

While 'Saving Private Ryan' is a perfect five-star film that literally could not have been made any better, 'Band of Brothers' deeply expounds on the intimate characterization of soldiers during a wartime conflict. 'Saving Private Ryan' is the 169-minute film that offers audiences the chance to get a taste of what fighting in World War II was truly like, 'Band of Brothers' is the 705-minute miniseries that allows you to experience every aspect of it for yourself. Of course, most of us weren't there to attest for the authenticity of wartime portrayed in 'Band of Brothers' – that's why we have the fascinating special features showing the personal testimonies of the real-life characters.

'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' (2002)

Another Playtone title, Hanks produced the sleeper comedy which went on to gross more than $368 million worldwide – which sure isn't bad considering it was made on a budget of $5 million. 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was the fifth-highest grossing film of 2002 and still stands as the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time.

The PG-rated situational romantic comedy tells the story of a single Greek woman's mid-life crisis as she finally meets Mr. Right. The only problem, Mr. Right isn't Greek and her family is quick to constantly remind her of it. The finished product is a light-weight rom-com fit for anyone, a delightful crowd-pleaser.

'Starter for 10' (2006)

Yet another great Playtone title, 'Starter for 10' is a low-budget dramedy starring known actors James McAvoy ('X-Men: First Class'), Catherine Tate ('The Catherine Tate Show'), Alice Eve ('Sex and the City 2') and Rebecca Hall ('The Town'). McAvoy plays the central character, an out-of-place Bristol University freshman whose dream of appearing on the quiz show 'University Challenge' is finally coming true.

Receiving a very limited release, 'Starter for 10' was not a commercially successful giant, but it's a film well worth watching. Give Tom Hanks one more notch for producing another genuine character-driven film.

'The Great Buck Howard' (2008)

Light-weight feel-good movies that somehow sneak their way into the Sundance Film Festival are usually poorly received. 'The Great Buck Howard' is one of them.

Starring Tom Hanks's son, Colin, 'The Great Buck Howard' follows a law school drop-out who decides to follow his dream of becoming a successful writer. Sound familiar? Colin Hanks' character story is not all that far off from that in his first feature film 'Orange County.'

To sustain himself while he tries to write his first masterpiece, he takes the job as road manager for a washed-up, has-been mentalist named Buck Howard (John Malkovich, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'). Along the way, he romantically connects with a fellow traveling publicist (Emily Blunt, 'The Adjustment Bureau') and learns more about himself than he knew before.

As you can tell, Hanks likes to produce low-key character pieces. Most of them are extremely simple and always charming – the types of films that serve as a breath of fresh air amidst the edgy content typical of these days. The movies he produces feel like they belong in another era -- one of optimism, improvement and happiness.

'Where the Wild Things Are' (2009)

Although I personally gave 'Where the Wild Things Are' a terrible review, I was surprised to see Hanks listed as a producer. Based on a ten-sentence children's book, 'Where the Wild Things Are' didn't need to be a drawn-out 101-minute snooze fest. It lacked genuine emotional connections with it's characters and didn't have any direction whatsoever.

But despite all of it's many flaws, 'Where the Wild Things Are' is rich in creativity and aesthetic. Hanks deserves recognition for putting faith into such an different type of film and having the stones to follow through and produce it. Was it great? No. But it did a lot of daring and creative cinematic things that most producers would not have stood behind. Although the film itself didn't work, those things did.

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Tags: Luke Hickman, HDD Study Hall (all tags)